A lot of you will have started working from home as the coronavirus pandemic continues and many of you won’t have had to do this before and may not be used to it. It takes some time to adapt and to find a balance of happiness and productivity, but it can be done.
As someone who’s done a PhD and works from home a lot, I thought I would share some tips. A lot of this is ‘common’ sense, but I still have to force myself to follow some of this advice and I’m usually better for it. Hopefully, at least some of these tips will be useful.
I have worked from home sporadically in my current job for the last five years. I am fortunate to have an office in our current house where I have got a computer and everything set up, but I have also worked from a tiny desk in the corner of my bedroom during the six years of my PhD, where I worked from home most days. I’m not saying its easy, but it can be done, it just takes some getting used to.
Incidentally, there are lots of guides out there for practical things like how to set your desk/chair/computer up so you are working comfortably and ergonomically etc., but I want to talk more about habits and behaviours that will help you get through the days and weeks ahead.
Working from Home
So, I’ve broken down my advice for working from home into the following seven key points:
1. Get Dressed – It can be tempting to just stay in your PJs, but I find I am happier and more productive if I make the effort to shower and get dressed.
2. Get Away – Just as you should at work anyway, get away from your desk/workspace every so often. Walk around the house, make a brew, do some little chores etc.. Particularly if you’re struggling to concentrate or are stuck on a problem, getting away for a few minutes and coming back to it will really help.
3. Get Outside – For the sake of your own mental health, as well as your productivity, getting some exercise and fresh air is essential. I recommend listening to Podcasts/Audiobooks while you wander. If it’s pissing down (or we end up in full lockdown), open a window and improvise some short exercises using stuff around the house as weights.
4. Get Drinks & Snacks – Preferably healthy(ish) ones; you’ll be surprised how quickly an entire packet of biscuits can disappear when you’re concentrating on something else! Remember to drink plenty of water/juice, as well as tea. Sometimes your body confuses hunger and thirst, so drinking plenty is a good way to minimise unnecessary snacking (this helped when I was trying to lose weight for the wedding).
5. Get some D – The body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors. It can help with tiredness, is good for bones and can help the immune system. I was advised to take some by my GP while I was suffering from depression and insomnia. Boots do their own brand of supplement, which is pretty cheap – get the 25μg dose if you can.
6. Get some Craic – Even I sometimes find that I need human interaction! Some podcasts/YouTube videos can fill the gap, as can messenger, but there’s no substitute for a phone (or preferably video) call every so often. Check-in on each other, be kind and let’s help get everyone we love to get through this.
7. Get Focussed – If you are actually knuckling down to work, try to avoid distractions. Don’t leave Facebook open in your browser PC or have your phone next to your keyboard. Listening to music – with a comfortable pair of headphones if you don’t want to disturb others – is a good way to help you focus, you just have to find the right kind of playlist that works for you. For me, it’s songs that I am very familiar with, or acoustic and instrumental songs with no vocals which aren’t too distracting.
There’s probably more, but that’s all I can think of for now…
Working from home can be challenging and your experience will vary depending on your personality and what policies, instructions and advice your particular company provides. But, a little self-care, determination and patience will help you adapt to this new style of working. These are the tips that I have found most helpful and, hopefully, some of them will work for you. Best of luck!